Dolgarrog Dam - A circular hike

In 1925 the Dolgarrog dam in Snowdonia burst and flooded the villages below. Luckily most of the residents had been at a cinema night in a local village hall, which was on higher ground. Everyone at the movie night survived, but 16 people in the lower village of Dolgarrog died.

The dam was built in 1911 on the Eastern side of Llyn Eigiau (Llyn meaning ‘lake’ in Welsh). The construction was not up to scratch and corners had been cut to save money. Heavy rain in the days prior to the flood caused the lake to fill and the walls of the dam buckled under this pressure. As the water burst out, flowing down to the Coedty Reservoir below, this reservoir was suddenly faced with a huge volume of water and its banks burst too. An estimated 70 billion gallons of water rushed down to Dolgarrog, carrying rocks and boulders with it, and caused awful destruction to the village, tearing down homes. The villages were rebuilt, but the locals will never forget the disaster that took place on that night.

Nowadays, the walls of the dam still stand and can be explored on foot. The AA’s 50 Walks in Snowdonia and North Wales book has a great circular walk around Dolgarrog’s old dam and reservoirs. We used this book to mark out the route on our OS map (you can find the correct one here), before heading out to start our hike.

A circular hike around the site of the Dolgarrog Dam disaster in Snowdonia, Wales.
A circular hike around the site of the Dolgarrog Dam disaster in Snowdonia, Wales.

Finding the car park was the first challenge… the drive took us along a narrow winding road which passed through several gates, used to keep the grazing animals on the correct land. As the road continued, it started to feel more and more like we had taken a wrong turn onto someone else’s land, but we continued on and eventually found the car parking area. I hadn’t filled up our fuel tank before we set off and we were running very low on diesel. The steep hills and bumpy conditions were using up our fuel much faster than I’d anticipated and we were getting anxious about being stranded in the middle of the Snowdonia wilderness. We parked the car and vowed never to let our fuel get this low again; hopefully we would make it to a petrol station before the car died, but first we had a hike to complete.

The start of the hike took us straight from the car park to the burst part of the dam wall, which looks quite small until you get up close to it. We went off trail slightly, past a sign telling us to keep out, so we could take a closer look at the wall and the remaining lake behind it. The lake is used for fishing now, but only authorised fishermen/women are allowed access to it. We didn’t think anyone would mind if we walked over to look; it’s not like we were stealing their fish.

A circular hike around the site of the Dolgarrog Dam disaster in Snowdonia, Wales.
A circular hike around the site of the Dolgarrog Dam disaster in Snowdonia, Wales.

Just before the hole in the wall, the trail turns round to the left to start heading North East across the moorland. We continued along this track for several miles, passing over rivers and boggy patches. There were some ponies in the distance and an occasional dog walker nodded a ‘hello’ in passing. The weather was cold and blustery, but luckily the rain held off and we had a fantastic day. The last few miles took us into a woodland, where we stopped for lunch with views of the reservoir. We found a large rock to sit on and had a rest, before setting off to complete our hike. Our final miles of hiking are usually a much slower pace because our energy levels tend to drop, however on this day we sped up into a power walk back to the car. The last section of the route followed the road we had driven along, leading us back to our car, which was waiting patiently we we had left it.

Luckily our fuel took us to the petrol station with 5 miles to spare. That was a close-call!

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A circular hike around the site of the Dolgarrog Dam disaster in Snowdonia, Wales.

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